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What You Need To Know About Medical Records Retention

Every physician’s dream is to be able to help even more patients every day. However, as your practice gains more patients, your medical records collection grows larger and takes up more space. Physicians are required by federal law to retain records for any and all patients who have ever received care at your practice. State laws further define which records need to be retained, as well as the minimum retention period for the various types of records.

Why Retain Medical Records?

Medical records contain information regarding a patient’s health and treatment history. Physicians need to have access to previous records so they can provide the best possible treatment to the patient. Thus, practices need to retain medical records in the case of future requests for copies.  Furthermore, medical records provide support for the physician’s defense in malpractice suits.

Which Records Should You Retain?

It is recommended the physician retains any record that deals with patient care. Thus, all examinations, medication, treatments, and physician notes should be kept during the retention period. Furthermore, any requested records regarding the patient must also be retained. If you used any of these records as the basis of treatment for the patient, it is vital for these records to also be kept, especially in case of a malpractice suit.

What Federal Laws Affect Medical Records Retention?

If your patient is covered by Medicare, you need to hold their records for a minimum of five years. However, HIPAA requires that records must be held for six years.

What Other Laws Affect Medical Records Retention?

Every state has laws and statutes regarding medical records retention that are specific to that state. These laws go more in depth regarding the length of the retention period and the various types of records that should be retained.  Our platform is specific to each state with regard to pricing rules.  There are differences beyond pricing, however, including retention statutes.  Here’s a spotlight on a few states with vastly different retention requirements:

Retention Laws in Massachusetts

In Massachusetts, a patient’s medical records must be held for at least twenty years after discharge from hospitals, regardless of whether the patient is an adult or a minor. Mental health records must be held for a minimum of thirty years. Additionally, patient X-Ray records, which are filed separately, need to be held for ten years.[1] At private practices, an adult patient’s medical records must be held for at least seven years. Similarly, a minor patient’s medical records must be held for at least seven years or until the minor reaches the age of nine, whichever is longer.[2]

Retention Laws in New Jersey 

In New Jersey, a patient’s medical records must be held for a minimum of ten years following discharge from the hospital. If the patient is a minor, the records must be held for either ten years or until the patient turns twenty-three years old, whichever is longer. However, all hospital summary sheets must be held for a minimum of twenty years. Private practices, on the other hand, need to retain medical records for at least seven years for both adults and minors.[3]

Retention Laws in New York

In New York, patient care reports from hospitals, along with other files including treatment and billing information must be kept for a minimum of six years after patient discharge, as per HIPAA requirements. However, in the case of minors, records need to be kept for either six years or for three years after their eighteenth birthday, depending on which period is longer.  Ambulance run logs must be kept for six years after the last entry in the log. All summary files regarding patient care and ambulance runs must be retained for at least three years.[4] Also, medical records need to be retained six years after the patient’s death.

At private practices, records must be kept a minimum of six years for adult patients after they have last been treated at that practice. Similarly, records must be kept for six years or until the minor turns nineteen years old, whichever is longer. The listed retention periods are the minimum required length, and it is encouraged for providers to keep the records for a longer period of time, if possible.

As you can see, medical record retention laws are different for each state. Some states might have similar laws, while others might not. Furthermore, the retention laws for private practices and hospitals are also different, so it is important for you to know the correct retention laws for your practice type. If you do not know the medical records retention laws for your state, it would be best for you to familiarize yourself and your staff on their contents. State laws regarding medical records retention laws can be found on your state’s Office of Health website.

Have feedback on this post, or any other information on medical records retention laws to share?  Comment below and we will be happy to include it in future blog posts!





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